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THE INTERGALACTIC PETTING ZOO
I would love to explore outer space, or the deepest parts of the ocean. But whenever my dad said, “Let’s explore!” all that meant was we were going to drive somewhere we hadn’t been before, looking for something to do. We would all bundle into the car—Mom, Dad, me, and my little brother and sister, Lenni and Azelia, and go off in search of fun.
Dad especially liked roadside attractions. Sometimes, that worked out okay. We’ve been to a cave about an hour and a half west of here, and to a big model-railroad display just five miles south. And there’s a nice car museum in town.
But we’ve also been to a plumbing museum, which is just about as exciting as it sounds. Imagine ten rooms filled with faucets, pipes, sinks, drains, plungers, bathtubs, and toilets. And we spent the longest two hours of my life at a natural-fiber museum. Yeah, I got to see endless types of yarn, miles of thread, and a glass tank full of hardworking silkworms.
Today, something caught my eye as Dad took a random exit off Route 80 and headed north.
There was a billboard that had an ad for Zorg’s Intergalactic Petting Zoo. I didn’t say anything. I figured, with a name like that, it would be a big disappointment. I could picture some goats with fake pairs of extra eyes glued on their foreheads, or pigs painted with purple stripes.
Unfortunately, the ad caught Dad’s eye, too.
“Look, kids!” he said. “I think we’ve found our next destination. This will be amazing!”
I wasn’t surprised by his enthusiasm. A hand-lettered sign on a piece of cardboard, nailed to a telephone pole, can catch his interest. A poorly painted sheet of plywood leaning against a rock on the ground can get him excited. But an actual professionally printed billboard towering over the roadside turns him into a total family-trip Weenie. Mom calls them tourist traps, but she’s just as big a fan of roadside attractions as Dad is.
We followed the directions on the billboard, and ended up bouncing along a small dirt road that led us to the entrance for Zorg’s Intergalactic Petting Zoo.
The building was shaped like a giant flying saucer. It was actually better built than I’d expected. A lot of these places were slapped together with plywood, and looked like they’d fall apart when the wind picked up. This one was made of metal, and looked like it was designed by someone who actually understood spaceflight. But I still didn’t get my hopes up.
We parked in the lot, then headed for the saucer, where an entrance sign with an arrow pointed to a section outlined in green lights.
A ramp came down.
We walked up.
There was a guy dressed in silver coveralls standing behind a ticket counter. He was shaped like a human, but with an enormous head. A single ear wrapped from one side of his head to the other. His nose had a pair of slits shaped like the holes in a violin. Instead of hair, he had purple scales. I hated to think what it felt like to wear that mask all day.
“Welcome. I am Zorg,” he said, in a fake alien voice.
“Five tickets, please,” Mom said. “Two adult, three children.”
We got our tickets and headed down a corridor, into the first room.
“Lambs!” Azelia squealed. She ran over to a pen that held three costumed wooly creatures behind a low fence. They were dyed blue, and had a second set of ears. The sign on the wall behind them read: Wooly Niknaks from Aldebus VII.
I figured that would be the seventh planet orbiting a star named Aldebus. I also figured there was no point being a grump, so I went along with things and petted the alien lambs. The wool felt weird, like spaghetti. Obviously, “Zorg” had sprayed something on the sheep.
“They’re so cute!” Lenni said.
Azelia wrapped her arms around a lamb. “I want to take you home!”
“They certainly are adorable,” Mom said.
“But they’re staying right here,” Dad added, before my sister could get her hopes up. He bought some “Niknak feed” from a vending machine. It looked like dried corn.
After Lenni and Azelia fed the wooly critters, we moved around the room, petting the Rigelian Squealer, which looked like a tattooed pig, the Rare Voldar IX Moo Beast, which was a calf wearing antlers, and other faked-up barnyard animals. They all felt just a bit strange.
Then, we headed down a corridor that led to a room with sea creatures. Some of them, in shallow tanks on the floor, could be petted. I expected them to be slimy, but most of them felt like flannel, or the rug in our living room.
There was a door at the other side of that room. A sign on it promised, Sol III hominids.
I’m still kicking myself for reading it without really noticing what it meant.
Anyhow, we opened the door and stepped into a room that looked pretty much like a typical kitchen.
“Sol III,” I said as the door clicked shut behind us.
Everyone looked at me. “That’s Earth,” I said. “And hominids—I think that means us.”
The floor lurched, like the whole building had jumped.
Dad grabbed the door and yanked at it.
“Locked,” he said.
“I want to take one home!”
I followed the voices toward the ceiling. There was a large opening near the top of the wall. A creature that looked like an elephant with trunks for arms towered over me. I couldn’t tell for sure from below, but it was probably about ten or twelve feet tall. Two smaller versions, at seven or eight feet, stood in front of it. I guess those were the kids.
One of the kids reached down and rubbed my back with a rubbery trunk.
I was about to scream, but it actually felt kind of nice. The tip of the trunk reminded me of the scrub brush my folks keep in the shower.
Another of the kids reached into a sack and pulled out a cheeseburger. It waved it in the air, over my head. I leaped, but couldn’t quite reach it.
The parent creature tapped the kid on the shoulder, then pointed to me, as if telling the kid to stop teasing me. The kid dropped the burger into my hands.
It was pretty good.
So here we are, the Sol III hominids in Zorg’s Intergalactic Petting Zoo. It looked like Zorg wasn’t wearing a mask, after all. And the Wooly Niknak really wasn’t a sheep. I guess it was just our luck that, out of all the fake roadside attractions and tourist traps, we had to stumble into the real thing. And to become a part of it.
Come see us sometime, if you get the chance. And don’t forget I like having my back scratched.
ROOT, ROOT, ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM
Bentley was perfectly happy sitting on the living room floor in his pajamas, watching cartoons. But he knew his morning was about to get ruined.
“Come on, Bentley, get dressed,” his dad said. “Your sister has a game.”
“I don’t care,” Bentley said. “I want to stay here.”
“You’ll turn into a couch potato,” his dad said.
“I’m on the floor,” Bentley said.
“Then you’ll be a floor potato,” his dad said.
“That’s fine with me,” Bentley said. “I like potatoes.”
He begged and pleaded, but it was a losing battle, just like it always was. His parents insisted on dragging him out to his sister’s softball games every weekend. That wasn’t fair. Bentley had to sit in the stands and watch softball, when he could have stayed home and watched something interesting.
Well, if he couldn’t stay home, he could at least sit where he wanted.
When Bentley and his family got to the field, his sister went to join her team on the home-team bench. His parents went to the bleachers.
“What a bunch of bleacher Weenies,” Bentley muttered as he walked away from them and plunked down on the ground behind the fence that ran along the first-base line.
“Bentley,” his mom called. “Come sit with us. You’ll miss the game.”
“I can see it fine from here,” he shouted back.
Bentley expected her to argue, but she didn’t say anything more. He settled into his spot and waited for the game to begin. He was eager for it to start because the sooner it started, the sooner it would end. And then, at least, they could go for ice cream.
“Don’t forget to root,” his dad called.
“I won’t,” Bentley said.
When his sister hit a double, Bentley could hear his parents shouting, “Yay!” and “Way to go, Shana!”
Bentley waved his hands in the air and, in a voice dripping with boredom said, “Root, root, root.” That almost made him happy, because it really looked like he was rooting. He figured that would stop his parents from bothering him.
“I wish I’d thought of this sooner,” Bentley said to himself.
Every time his sister’s team scored, he waved his arms wildly and shouted “Root, root, root.”
It was the most fun he’d ever had at a softball game.
Finally, the game ended. It was time for ice cream. And then, after a double scoop of chocolate-brownie chunk or peanut-butter fudge ripple, he could go back home and watch more cartoons.
“Let’s get moving, Bentley,” his dad said, walking up to him from behind.
Bentley got up from his new favorite spot.
Or, at least he tried to.
“Come on, hurry up,” Shana said. “Everyone is waiting.”
“I’m trying.” Bentley pushed against the ground with his hands and feet. But he couldn’t get up. He felt as if his rear end had been glued to the earth.
His dad squatted next to him. “Oh, no…” he said.
“What?” Bentley asked.
“It looks like you grew roots,” his dad said.
“What!” Bentley felt under his butt on either side, with both hands.
Or he tried to. Something blocked his fingers.
“Those are definitely roots,” his mom said as she knelt on the other side of Bentley.
“Looks like you really rooted for me,” Shana said.
Bentley pushed harder. It was no use. He was firmly rooted to the ground.
“I guess we could try to dig him up,” his dad said.
“Can we get ice cream first?” Shana asked.
“Of course,” Bentley’s mom said. “He’s not going anywhere.”
“Or we could leave him here until the season is over,” Shana said. “That way, he won’t miss any games.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Bentley’s dad said.
“It might be safer,” his mom said. “The roots are there for a reason. Come on. Let’s go before the line gets too long.”
“Hey, no, wait!” Bentley shouted as everyone walked off.
They kept going.
Bentley hoped they’d come back soon. And he hoped they’d bring him ice cream. And a shovel. As much as he liked being a couch potato, or a floor potato, being a field potato was no fun at all.
Copyright © 2019 by David Lubar
Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Bill Mayer